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updated: 6/25/2013 1:47 PM

District 203 looks to diversify teaching ranks

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The student body of Naperville Unit District 203 is changing and a strengthened diversity action plan approved last week aims to make sure teachers and the district's overall environment are keeping up.

The plan outlines efforts the district will make in the next year to create an atmosphere of respect, value and worth for students and staff from all backgrounds.

Superintendent Dan Bridges said the diversity advisory council that presented a plan to the board last July thought an update was in order as student demographics continue to shift.

Of the district's 17,431 students in 2011-12, 68.7 percent were white -- down from 81.8 percent in 2001-02, according to school report card data. Populations of Asians, Hispanics and blacks all have increased, with Asian students making up 14.6 percent of the student body, Hispanic students 8.1 percent and black students 5.2 percent in 2011-12.

"The feeling was it needed to be stronger and more assertive," Bridges said about the diversity action plan.

One area of focus is hiring because the district's teachers are not yet as diverse as its students. School report card data for 2011-12 shows 94.4 percent of 1,048 teachers were white, 2 percent were Hispanic, 1.4 percent were Asian, 1.1 percent were black and the remaining few were Native Hawaiian or Pacific islanders or people of unknown or mixed racial backgrounds.

The district wants teachers to provide a variety of role models, not only for nonwhite students, who may benefit from seeing someone of their background in a successful career, but also to introduce all students to diversity in terms of race, religion and physical abilities, said Cheryl Moore, director of human resources.

"It's important that our white students see role models of diverse backgrounds," Moore said. "They're going to be working with all types of people and they need to have those experiences as well."

After the diversity action plan was introduced last year for the first time under Bridges, administrators studied 2012 hiring practices, determining 13 percent of applicants for teaching positions were of diverse backgrounds. From thousands of applicants, Moore said the district hired nonwhite candidates to fill 15 percent of roughly 100 positions.

In seeking candidates the past two years, administrators broadened their recruiting to reach education majors at Chicago State University, Governor's State University, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Illinois Resource Center job fair as well as nearby North Central College.

"We need to go beyond Naperville to get out to these other communities," Moore said. "At the end of the day, we're going to pick the best teacher."

Increasing teacher diversity likely will take time, Moore said, because only 11 percent of teachers statewide are nonwhite, according to a 2011 study by the Center for American Progress. That's lower than the national total of 17 percent.

"That's a challenge because the number of available, qualified, nonwhite teachers is small," Moore said.

Research also shows teachers are more likely than other professionals to want to work close to their hometown, Moore said, citing a Stanford University study that found 60 percent of teachers work within 20 miles of where they graduated high school, higher than the 42 percent of college graduates in other fields who also stay nearby.

Bridges said the diversity advisory council suggested creating a recruiting video to convey District 203's openness to all backgrounds.

"It's a powerful message when it comes from the district itself when we embrace and welcome diverse candidates to our community," Bridges said.

Making such a video is on a list of 2013-14 goals, which also includes expanding efforts to find community employment for students with disabilities, making an inventory of student groups that support diverse populations and adding cultural competency into professional learning for teachers.

"It weaves the entire community in, which is the right answer," school board President Jackie Romberg said.

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